Keeping a consistent rein contact depends on a number of factors:
- Having reins that are the right size/texture for you as an individual
- How you hold the reins within your hands
- How the horse contacts the bit
These might sound obvious, but they are the small details that plague many riders until they are highlighted.
Let’s look at each one in a bit more details.
1. Having reins that are the right size/texture for you as an individual
Riders find different widths of rein comfortable to hold – there is no ‘one size fits all’.
Experiment with rein widths (there are plenty out there) and decide which feels most comfortable to you.
Also, try different types of rein.
You can, of course, get just plain leather. But this can be hard to keep a grip on, particularly when wet.
Rubber covered, or one-sided rubber, is the choice of many, but there are also plaited leather, continental reins (with stops at intervals) in either leather or webbing.
Continental reins with stops can help if you slip the reins, as you have a small stop to hold onto and you are more likely to notice them slipping.
2. How you hold the reins within your hands
How, precisely, do you hold the reins in your hands? Where is the grip?
Look at your hand with the rein in it:
- Is your thumb closed down onto the rein and squeezing it against your index finger?
- Are the knuckles of your fingers all lined up? (They should be in a straight line. If not, you are gripping the reins in the wrong part of your hand.)
Your fingers should be lightly closed around the reins, with the rein length held by pressing your thumb onto the rein where it passes over your index finger.
If you are trying to hold it with your lower fingers, you will not achieve a subtle but steady contact. Instead, the lower fingers should be more relaxed to allow for the soft movements that produce subtle half-halts and communication down the rein.
3. How the horse contacts the bit
If your horse is not soft in the mouth, you are not going to find the desired elastic contact that we all talk about.
If he does not respond to the closure of your fingers with a relaxation of his jaw, then he is either going to take a harsh hold of the contact and take the reins out of your hands when he can, or he will refuse to connect to the hand at all, by dropping behind the contact.
You may need to experiment with bits until you find something he is comfortable in, or you may simply need to teach him about acceptance of the contact.
A correct contact is one that is soft, yet steady, with no visible looping in the reins unless you deliberately yield your hand forward (as in a give and retake).
To gauge the amount of ‘grip’ you should have, imagine you are holding a bird in your hand – strong enough that you are not going to let it escape, but not so strongly that you will crush it.
Contact is a vast subject because it will (and does) vary from horse to horse.
It is different at different training levels even with the same horse, it will change during different movements, such as transitions and half-halts (when it may be momentarily firmer).
You will never come to the end of learning about contact, but starting out by ensuring you hold the reins correctly is a good way to begin.
If you have any other tips to help maintain a consistent rein contact, tell us about them in the comments below.
- The Scales of Training: Scale 3 – Contact
- Where Should You Hold Your Hands?
- How Long Should Your Reins Be?
- What Does ‘Between Hand and Leg’ Actually Mean?